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Go play outside! Run, bike or hike like I did with these wonderful ladies last weekend. This weekend I’m doing the Grouse Grind for the first time. Challenging but totally rewarding!

The last post I wrote was all about the “art of doing nothing.” I emphasized the human need to just kick back and relax (guilt-free) from time to time; It’s about taking time to smell the flowers and just take it all in. While I do maintain that knowing how to let it all go and just kick back is an essential component of living simple, I equally believe in stepping up and taking action towards your dreams and goals, without overcomplicating things of course;)

With my wedding coming up in just over two months, I have stepped my health and fitness game up recently and want to share what I’ve learned so far. First off, health, fitness and overall well-being is one of the most crucial elements of simple, sustainable and self-sufficient living because it staves off a slew of problems that are much easier to prevent than they are to fix; Sickness, disease and obesity are just a few. If you want to simplify your life, get fit and eat right and you’ll save yourself from having to be dependent on the costly and time-consuming government-regulated, pharmaceutical-sponsored public health industry. If you really want to become self-sufficient and take care of yourself, you can’t depend on the system to care for you in your sickness. The best way to ensure you won’t need said system is to care for yourself before you get sick. Also, if you have (or are planning to have) a family who will be dependent on you, you must be in good shape yourself. If you’re sick and tired how are you going to be able to care for your family if they become sick and tired?

The point is, the time to get off your butt and do something is now. Not tomorrow, today, before it’s too late. Take time to relax for sure, but earn that time by working your butt off. Have a cheat day, but earn that cheat day by fuelling your body with whole foods and nutrients the rest of the week. Your results are the product of what you do most of the time, not some of the time. So do the healthy thing most of the time and relax with a burger sometimes. Likewise, your life is the result of every choice you have made up until now. Make the right choices.

Fitness has always been an interest of mine, but until now it has never been so front and centre in my life. Since I quit smoking (and have cut back immensely on drinking) I have replaced these bad habits with better ones such as focusing on eating right and working out. For the first time in my life I am putting my physical body first. I’m even starting with a personal trainer today, something I would have never spent the time and money to do in the past, but which I’ve decided to invest in once and for all. I figure I’ve invested countless hours and a ton of money in my education so far, so why not invest in my body as well as my mind? What good is a brain if you’re too physically unhealthy to use it?

Of course there’s a bit of ego in all this as well. I want to look good on my wedding day and all. But more so I want to do this to prove to myself that I can: that I can lose weight, I can gain muscle and I can have more energy than I’ve ever had before. I’ve been able to accomplish pretty much anything I’ve set my mind to in the past, except for getting my physical body to where I want it to be. Other “priorities” and obligations have just always gotten in the way. But now this is my number 1 priority and I’ve learned a few key things about how to change old habits and get fit once and for all:

1. Quit old habits

For me, smoking absolutely had to go. There was no way I could truly get fit and healthy and still be a smoker. Same with drinking. I still have a drink (and even a smoke) every once in a while, but overall that crap just leads me in the wrong direction. My first step was to rid myself of my most toxic habits.

2. Surround yourself with fit and healthy people

You are who you hang with, so choose to hang out with people who are already living the type of fit, healthy lifestyle you want to live. You’ll end up hiking on the weekends instead of downing a six-pack.

3. Be mindful of your food choices

Every time you are about to cook or order something, ask yourself if it serves you nutritionally. If the best you can do is to say “the pickle on my burger is a vegetable,” you probably need to rethink your food choices. You don’t have to change everything overnight, just start by eating mindfully so that you become more aware of the choices you are making versus the choices you should be making. Keeping a food journal is a good idea.

4. Get outside

Or at least get dressed and put you runners on. My biggest hurdle is usually just getting out the door. Once I’m out in the big world I’m more likely to make my way to the gym, go for that run or even just enjoy some fresh air.

5. Plan

If you make plans with someone to do something fitness-oriented, you’re more likely to keep your commitment. For me, I’m holding myself accountable by working out with a trainer and scheduling weekend hikes with friends.

6. Just do it.

There’s a reason why this is such a popular slogan. It’s so simple, and yet so powerful. Quit making excuses, quit procrastinating, feel the fear and do it anyway, push through the pain and all that shit. Just get off your ass and do what you already know needs to be done. You will probably hate it while you’re doing it, but you’ll feel great after and the sooner you just do it the sooner you’ll be just done it!

Well, it’s time for a healthy, homemade lunch and then first session with my trainer. I’m totally nervous, but I won’t let the fear of failure hold me back from being the best version of myself any longer. I hope you won’t either. Take care of yourself and don’t wait until it’s too late and you become dependent. Without health, nothing else has much value. Live simple, eat well and train hard!

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With all the excitement of birthday celebrations (both mine and my hubby-to-be had our birthdays within the last week), finally life seems to be slowing down again. Wedding planning has taken a back seat as I feel I’ve done all I can for a while, and the weather has taken a bit of a turn with grey skies overhead and sprinkling rain- if not torrential at times. It’s the perfect time to just sit back and do nothing. In fact, the other day Ryan and I got into bed at 6 pm and didn’t get out (except to pay the pizza delivery guy) until the next morning. At first I felt this overwhelming feeling of guilt for being so lazy, but then I reminded myself that it’s all in my head, and that it really doesn’t matter if I’m “being productive” or not. Our society is way too obsessed with productivity, and it seems that no matter what we do it’s never enough. (The ironic part is that the more “productive” we are in today’s world, the more destructive we tend to be to the planet. The best way to reduce our footprint after all is not to make one in the first place, and what better way than to sit back and put your feet up!)

Part of living simple is remembering that simplifying life means forgoing making commitments and social obligations and even work to just sit back, relax and enjoy life. If you want to spend the whole day in bed, why not? Who says you can’t? In the end, when we all die, the world will keep spinning regardless of how “productive” we were. None of it matters. What matters is how much enjoyment and fulfillment you get out of life while you’re living it, and for me, lately my enjoyment has been coming from staying in my pyjamas most of the day, reading books, cuddling with my kitties and lounging around with my man. This is what makes me happiest in life. Most of my life is spent working just so I can afford to enjoy days like these anyways, so why not take advantage right here and now?

For my birthday last week, Ryan and I went on a picnic close to home in a secret undisclosed location. We ordered Greek IMG_1579take-out food and brought our picnic basket, candles, table and chairs with us for a beautiful evening hidden amongst the trees and tall grass. I love this time of year as spring slowly begins turning to summer. Picnic season is just beginning and the weather is just warm enough to begin enjoying meals al fresco. I love living with the seasons and feeling like I’m in rhythm with the natural cycle of the Earth. I used to struggle with anxiety and depression to the point of feeling suicidal, but now that I’ve put more emphasis on the importance of living in harmony with nature rather than keeping pace with modern life and technology, my sadness and anxiety has all but disappeared. Like I said, I still get that creeping guilty feeling when I’m not doing something that would be considered productive by modern standards, but I’m slowly learning to tell the voice to shut the eff up because it really doesn’t know what it’s talking about. I don’t believe we exist on Earth to do. I believe we exist simply to be. After all, that is what existence means. To exist = to continue to be or to live. So the next time you find yourself stressed out, anxious or depressed because you simply can’t keep up with all of modern life’s crazy expectations of you and your time, unschedule your life as much as possible, lay in bed longer than usual and picnic whenever you can. Simplify. Don’t do, just be.

Wow… Three weeks since my last post and it feels like yesterday. I’ve been so busy these past few weeks with work, wedding planning and all sorts of mini projects on the go. I figured now would be a good time to let you know what I’ve been up to during my hiatus from the LiveSimple blog…

Wedding Planning: The BIG Project

IMG_1437I am now beginning to understand why ladies turn into Bridezillas. With a mere three months to go before the big day, planning is in full swing and has ramped up to nearly a full time job, and my head is spinning trying to keep track of vendors, deposits, outfits, accommodations, family drama and all the many, many details that go into creating the perfect day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super excited for my wedding day, but there’s definitely a piece of me that just can’t wait until it’s all over.

There’s just so much that goes into it. Aside from planning the day itself, I’ve been trying to concentrate much of my energy on eating clean, getting in shape and staying healthy, which isn’t always easy when you’re busy stressing about everything else. I’ve always been one to let my own health and wellbeing be the first thing to fall by the wayside when other “priorities” are vying for my attention. But this time I simply can’t do that. I figure if my wedding day isn’t motivation enough to get in the best shape of my life, nothing will be, so I’m working hard without letting myself get discouraged.

Eating healthy, whole foods fits right into my simple living plan anyway. It’s limiting how much of these foods I eat in a day as I LOVE to munch. Regular exercise also fits right into the lifestyle I’m aiming for, but I have to admit, I’m lazy by nature, so it’s getting my butt out the door that’s usually my biggest challenge.

All in all everything is falling into place, but I’m glad I don’t work a regular day job right now as wedding planning has certainly been consuming much of my daily life lately.

All the Small Things…

Aside from tackling the big project of wedding planning, I’ve been busy with all sorts of mini-projects such as gardening, spring cleaning and remembering to just enjoy life without feeling like I always have to be doing  something.

As far as spring cleaning goes, I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the clothes in my closet… clothes I hadn’t even worn in over a year. So I decided to hold the first annual Spring-Cleaning-Clothing-Swap at my place a couple weeks ago. While the idea of a clothing swap seems to be pretty straight forward, I’ll explain it anyway just in case.

Basically, a group of people (typically females) make a plan to clear out their closets of all the clothes, jeweunnamedlry and accessories that they no longer want or use. Then they get together, dump their piles of unwanted second-hand clothes all around them and dig through other people’s clothes to replenish their wardrobe with “new” clothes at no cost.

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My flower-girl-to-be going through some second-hand jewelry at the clothing swap. Ain’t she a doll?

Whatever’s left over can either go to charity or consignment or the original owner may take them back. There are no real rules aside from a general (and completely free) exchange of goods. And it’s win-win! You get rid of the stuff that’s cluttering up your closet AND get to go shopping for new stuff for free! This year I hosted and had about 10 girls altogether, and that made for A LOT of clothes! Everybody got rid of stuff they no longer wanted and everybody got at least one new item for their wardrobe. Personally, I got rid of about a third of my closet and replenished about half of that with “brand-new” second-hand clothes that would have cost hundreds of dollars had I bought them new at the store. The added bonus is we were able to donate 4 or 5 bags of clothing to charity and every item was recycled or reused in some way, eliminating tons of waste and saving tons of money.
I’m thinking about hosting a broader spring cleaning swap meet down the road when I have more space where guests can exchange everything from clothing and personal items to furniture and housewares. It’s a great sustainability exercise that is immediately beneficial to all those involved!

I’ve also been busy preparing my garden for the warmer months, but with a north-facing balcony, plants pretty much come here to die. I’ve been on the hunt for some good, shade-lovin’ plants and have found a few (hostas and fuschias to start) and my herb garden seems to be doing fairly well. I’ve planted sage, parsley and thyme so far in my planter box this year. My chives were the only thing that came back from last year, but they came back with a vengeance! They even began to flower, which I thought was slightly odd before I realized that these beautiful purple flowers are edible and they taste like onion! (I used some in my salad the other night and they were great:)

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Chive “blooms.” These flowers from on the ends of chives and they even fast like chives! They would be beautiful sprinkled on top of fluffy, yellow scrambled eggs on a spring morning. What a gorgeous colour combo!

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Mommy and me on Mother’s Day at the London Heritage Farm plant sale near Steveston, BC: http://londonheritagefarm.ca/news/

I also passed a wonderful Mother’s Day with my mom this year. Last year my grandma (her mom) died just a few days before Mother’s Day, so the holiday was filled with the stress of dealing with the death of a loved one. This year Mother’s Day was utterly simple. Just my mom and I, brunch on a sunny patio, hanging out on a local farm, shopping for plants and redecorating my balcony! Over all I think the fact that we didn’t yell at each other even once gives testament to what a blissful Mother’s Day it really was. For me, the simple act of spending a sunny afternoon with someone I love is reason enough to smile and love life. Love you mom!

My birthday is also coming up this weekend, and with it I plan to begin a new little project: learning how to sew. My aunt is an amazing seamstress and I just picked up a mint-condition vintage sewing machine for a mere $40 at a thrift store, so for my birthday my aunt is coming over to teach me to sew. That may sound lame to you, but I wouldn’t want to spend my birthday any other way. Plus, I’ll be celebrating my 27 years on Earth (and my new amazing hidden talent for making my own clothes -fingers crossed) with my closest friends over the May Long Weekend. And I promise to keep you posted next week:)

Until then, Happy May Days! Remember to take time to smell (and even eat;) the flowers. They are fragrant and delicious this time of year!

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Ah, April 22nd; Earth Day. That special holiday that has nothing to do with chocolates or presents or money or greeting cards or time off or commercialism at all. That day of celebration and gratitude and giving back that the majority of us are completely oblivious to. And yet it is probably the “holiday” with the most important message of all: be kind to the planet that gave you life, that provides you with food, water and shelter and that is in desperate need of your help.

Earth Day in itself symbolizes the very prominent, backwards thinking about our planet that pervades in most societies today: that there should be but one day a year that is dedicated to being mindful of our impact on the Earth and the significance of our dependence on a healthy planet. Every other day is a free for all, apparently. Earth Day should represent how we live our lives every day. Nevertheless, I understand that it’s a day dedicated to bringing awareness to the largest, most important and daunting issue facing global populations today: the rapid and intense degradation of our planet and the implications that has on us all.

Last night, as Ryan and I were lounging about watching a highly recommended documentary on the relationship between poverty, hunger, obesity and processed foods in America, we realized that it was past midnight and that meant it was officially Earth Day. We decided to turn off all the lights, unplug whatever appliances we could (ie. coffee maker, computer, etc…) and light candles for ambiance as we finished our movie. (Sure, we continued to watch TV, but I’m aiming for progress, not perfection here). I have yet to turn on a light today and the television is currently switched off instead of creating “background noise” as it usually does. I’d like to make this an Earth Day tradition in our house: no lights or television for at least 24 hours over Earth Day. But there are many ways to commemorate Earth Day and certainly to be more mindful of our everyday choices that impact our planet. Here’s an anecdote to illustrate my point:

This morning I decided to walk over to Safeway to grab a few grocery items. As always, I brought my reusable bag (mine folds up and fits in my purse so I have it on me at all times. Best thing I own). I bought my yogurt, granola and coffee cream and popped them in my reusable bag. Of course, I carried my 4-litre jug of milk by the handle already provided on the actual jug. Common sense, right? WRONG! I have to vent here; My BIGGEST PET PEEVE is watching people request or accept a plastic bag to carry their milk in. Sometimes, they even double bag it! WTF? Plastic bags are devil spawn to anyone with compassion for our environment. They should be eradicated altogether. They’re horrible for our planet, most of them are too flimsy to even trust that they’ll hold your groceries and they create an awful mess beneath your kitchen sink that just grows and grows until you can’t take it anymore! (This has been my experience anyways). I hate watching people carry their groceries out in plastic bags. I hate it more when I see someone purchasing a single item and carrying it out in a grocery bag. I hate it MOST when I see someone carrying an item with a built-in handle out in a plastic bag (ie. a jug of milk or even another bag or purse! Why do you need a bag for a bag? But that’s another blog post. Let’s explore the milk thing…

unnamed-2I think this picture says it all. On the left we see a plastic milk jug equipped with a handle for carrying it. On the right we this same jug in a plastic bag equipped with weaker handles for carrying multiple goods (not one container). Why ON EARTH would you carry something that already has a handle in a plastic bag? It’s wasteful, it adds to the clutter and garbage in your house and it’s overall utter nonsense, and yet I watch people bag their milk every day without even a thought to how ridiculous and wasteful it is. Likewise, when I do eat at fast food places that bag their foods in plastic bags, I always opt for no bag as I am just going to throw it away as soon as I get my food out. When I do eat at a big-name fast food joint, I usually eat at Subway as it’s at least healthier than some of the alternatives. However, Subway uses plastic bags for their sandwiches. While I never accept a bag, I often watch people not only take the bag, but turn around, walk two step and throw it in the garbage before they sit down to enjoy their meal. SERIOUSLY? It’s like a knife to the heart for me every time I see this. Please people! If you choose to be ignorant of everything else, please please please be mindful of your plastic bag use! It is seriously one of the most wasteful forms of packaging we use and throw out every day.

Then when I arrived home today, I decided to check my mailbox. It was full of flyers, junk mail and advertising. So was everybody else’s mailbox. The mail had just been delivered as I saw the mail carrier in the building about a half hour before, and already there was a garbage can full of unopened junk mail, produced, transported and delivered just to be thrown away without ever serving any purpose. If that isn’t the textbook definition of waste, we are in big trouble.

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This is just the pile of junk mail that I received this morning, including the mail I pulled out of the garbage so that I could at least recycle it.

 

unnamed-1I decided that the least I could do was to finally put up a sign and put an end to the waste in my own mailbox. I don’t know how or why it’s taken me so long, but if ever there was a time to reduce my own waste, Earth Day is it!

And so I guess this is just the point of Earth Day: although one day a year isn’t nearly enough to save our planet (even if most people actually paid attention to it), it does serve as a reminder that there are many things that need to be fixed, that there are people and communities who care about our planet, and that even the simplest of steps like reducing plastic bag use or saying no to junk mail can and do make a difference to our planet.

I encourage all of you to do even just one thing to better our environment and/or reduce waste this Earth Day. Every little bit helps, and we really can make a difference one flyer, plastic bag or unplugged computer at a time. I welcome you to share your ideas for Earth Day traditions and waste-reduction in the comments section below. For tips, ideas, inspiration and information about Earth Day, please visit www.earthday.ca.

 

 

Easter, like all western holidays (Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day…) has become less about giving thanks and spending time with family and more about consumerism and waste. While I would usually host Easter, this year I will be spending the weekend at my family’s cabin, but if I were hosting I would definitely be throwing an eco-friendly version of the spring celebration. In the future, I want to start celebrating all holidays more mindfully and less wastefully, the way they were intended to be celebrated. If you too are looking for a way to simplify and create a sustainable Easter tradition, here are some cool tips to get you started!

1) Buy local, free-range eggs

IMG_1330Say no to factory farms and yes to free-range, organic, cruelty-free local food producers. Not only do you feel better about the food you’re eating, but the food you’re eating is better for you! If you’ve any doubt, just compare the vibrant, orange yolks of free-range eggs with the sickly-looking pale yellow of factory-farmed eggs. The eggs produced by factory-farmed chickens who probably never even see the light of day can’t compare in quality to free-range eggs produced by chickens free to roam and soak up the sun. An added bonus is that local egg farmers typically recycle old egg cartons so you create less packaging waste too!

2) Make your own Easter treats

Forgo all of the chocolate Easter egg packaging (and definitely say no to plastic eggs, unless you’re reusing ones you already have) and make your own Easter treats! Here’s a cool idea for DIY chocolate eggs.

3) Buy better chocolate

ethical-easter-chocolates.png.644x0_q100_crop-smartWhen buying chocolate to bake with or to pop directly in your Easter basket, opt for fair-trade, organic, dark chocolate if possible. It helps the farmers, your conscience and your health, of course. Check out fair-trade, organic chocolates at your local whole foods store (ie. Whole Foods, Choices, Urban Fare…)

 

4) Cook what’s in season

If you buy from local farmer’s markets, you’ll have to buy what’s in season. Cook a truly spring-worthy Easter meal with seasonal ingredients such as asparagus and seasonal wild mushrooms as well as local, free-range, grass-fed, humanely-slaughtered meats if you choose to include meat in your diet.

5) Adopt (and gift) ethically

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One of many rabbits up for adoption at the Richmond Animal Protection Society: http://www.rapsociety.com

Easter is a time of year (much like Christmas) when some parents vie for their children’s love by buying them cute, furry little pets as novelty gifts, but unfortunately in many cases, the novelty quickly wears off and said pets end up homeless or even sitting on death row at the local shelter. If you’re planning to adopt a pet like a baby chick or bunny rabbit, please do so only if you are capable of giving it a forever home. Even better, plan a day for the whole family to volunteer at your local animal shelter if you are unable to adopt permanently. To volunteer or adopt responsibly in your area, find your nearest animal shelter. In Richmond, BC (where I live), I recommend the Richmond Animal Protection Society, a no-kill shelter that serves as a safe-haven for all animals from dogs and cats to rabbits and rats!

6) Give thanks and share the love

All holidays were originally about celebrating the seasons, spending time with loved ones and giving thanks for Earth’s bounty. So don’t let Hallmark or Cadbury dictate how you spend your time and money this Easter. Look to your family, your local community and the life Earth provides all around you to find the true meaning of Easter in your heart.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a celiac, nor have I jumped on the f@%# gluten bandwagon like so many have in recent years. These cookies just so happen to be “accidentally” gluten-free.

What I really wanted to make was homemade almond butter, but I misread the recipe (as I often do when I assume I already know what I’m doing), and instead of popping the whole almonds in the oven first, I threw them directly into the food processor, raw.

After a couple minutes, I could tell that not enough oils were being released to form a butter, and instead I was stuck with about 2 cups of flaky, ground, raw almonds, aka almond flour! So… armed with my evening chocolate craving, I decided to whip up a batch of chocolate-chip almond flour cookies. They were delish:)

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Recipe

– 2 cups of almond flour

– 1 cup of ground flax seed

– 3/4 cup of brown sugar

– 1/2 cup of butter (softened)

– 1/4 cup of coconut oil (softened)

– 2 free-range eggs

– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

– 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

– 1/2 teaspoon of salt

– liberal amounts of chocolate chips and/or nuts

* I mixed a combination of dark chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts *

 

Directions

1) If you’re making your own almond flour, all you need to do is throw a generous amount of whole, raw almonds in a food processor and blitz until ground fine (mine were about the coarseness of regular ground coffee).

2) Preheat oven to 350˚F and prep your baking sheet (line with parchment paper if desired).

3) In a large bowl, whip the butter, coconut oil and brown sugar together. Slowly add in the eggs and vanilla.

*  Tip: Use coconut oil as a butter substitute and use 3/4 cup of coconut oil and no butter instead in this recipe.

4) Slowly mix in all the dry ingredients (almond flour, ground flax seed, baking soda and salt).

5) Fold in desired amount of chocolate chips (and nuts).

*  Be creative! Add nuts, seeds and even dried fruit to your cookie dough!

6) Form into gooey little balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for roughly 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

*  I placed mine too close together and they expanded more than regular cookies and stuck together a bit. Try placing them a few inches apart if possible to avoid this!

7) Let cool for as long as you can wait for them, eat, share and enjoy!

 

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It’s been a few weeks since my last entry, but it’s not because I’ve fallen off the wagon. Actually, quite contrarily I’ve been so busy working towards my goals that my blog just hasn’t been first priority lately. The past three weeks have been a time of such incredibly growth for me. I’ve been working on cleaning out the old, unhealthy, negative aspects of my life and cultivating new, healthy, positive habits and practices. Three weeks has been a great start, but I know it will take at least the whole season to really get onto the right track. But that’s what spring is all about: Cleaning out the old, cultivating for the future and, of course, taking time to smell the flowers right here and now. Here’s how I’m making the most out of my spring:

 

Cleaning Out the Old

First off, the most important focus of my life right now is on my physical and mental health and wellbeing. I have alluded to -actually, spoken quite openly- about my addictions in past blog posts. Last year I wrote a blog about my struggle with anxiety and depression. I have been unwell for a long time now, and I have finally made the decision to get better. I quit smoking and drinking three weeks ago, and while I still struggle with addictive urges and temptations, I’m happy to report that I have never felt better about myself and my decisions. I already feel healthier having released myself from this lifestyle and as my body slowly purges the toxins that have been pulling me down for half my life, the lighter, happier and more peaceful I’m becoming. Cleaning the crap out of my body has been focus number one, and the results are finally being felt.

I’ve also been really focused on eating healthier as well. As I have an addictive personality, I found myself using food as a crutch in lieu of cigarettes and alcohol in the beginning stages of my quit. Now I am much more conscious of my food choices and am trying to eat as much good and as little bad as possible. I’m trying not to be too strict with myself as it is so difficult to avoid crap in our diets nowadays, but being mindful of what I put in my body has been helping me to make the right decisions most of the time. I’m moving away from meat (which I’m not super fond of anyway), and definitely away from processed foods and packaged shit towards a diet based mainly around plants and nuts and seeds and whole, natural products that have been influenced as little as possible by man. I don’t, however, intend to become a gluten-free vegan with a sugar allergy… I love food too much to do that to myself. I do intend to find a middle ground that keeps me full of good food that’s good for me too, and if I happen to slip up, I get back on track before I find myself sitting in the drive-thru for McDonald’s <<shudder>>.

While clearing the body of toxins, I’ve also been clearing my mind of toxic thoughts. I went on a three-day yoga retreat this weekend that was the best thing I possibly could have done to kick-start my healthy lifestyle. It took place on an organic farm on Salt Spring Island to boot, so I was most definitely in my happy place. For me, the weekend was all about letting go. The past three weeks -hell, who am I kidding- the last few years have been full of a lot of pain and struggle and heartache for me, and I was holding onto all of it! It’s like every bad thing that had ever happened to me made its home in my heart and refused to leave, or rather, I held all these feelings captive. This weekend I gave myself permission to let all of these things go and move forward with a clean slate. By Sunday, I was alone, walking the many acres of the farm when I came across a snake. Then I came across another one, and then another. It could have just been a coincidence, although I hadn’t heard any of the other two-dozen yogis say anything about any snake sightings, and I had just seen three. I decided to look up the meaning of seeing snakes, and as it turns out they are a symbol for renewal and transformation as they come out in spring and shed their old skins, baring their new selves to the world. I thought for sure at first that they were some sort of bad omen, but now I believe in my heart that they crossed my path to show me that the time has finally arrived for me to make my transformation, out of my old skin to reveal the new. Needless to say, I definitely felt more connected to the Earth and to all life around me (including the life within me) after this weekend.

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Stowel Lake Organic Farm on Salt Spring Island, home of the Santosha Yoga Retreats: http://santosha-yoga-retreats.com.

My next step in the cleansing process will be my home. My personal space is very important to me and can influence me and my habits immensely, so keeping my home tidy and uncluttered is totally important to me. I have so much stuff I need to purge, but I’m certainly not one to just throw things away. That would be wasteful and VERY bad karma. House cleaning will commence sometime in the next week, and I’ll be sure to find everything possible a good home with grateful owners.

Cleansing is so important when it comes to moving forward. You need to clear space for new, good things, and in order to do that you need to clean out old, bad things. The reason I think I’ve been unsuccessful at moving forward in the past is because I’ve wanted the new, but been unwilling to let go of the old. I’ve maintained bad habits while trying to establish new, good ones. That’s not how it works though, and I’ve finally learned to let go.

 

Cultivating the New

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Early-spring sprouting at Stowel Lake Organic Farm: http://www.stowellakefarm.com

Once I successfully cleaned out space in my life that was previously allotted to bad habits, I started making way for good ones. Yoga is fast becoming a really important part of my life. It’s helping me to focus, to become aware of my connection to and part in this world, and overall I’m just feeling healthier and like my jaw isn’t so tight. The retreat was just what I needed in part because of the yoga, and in part because I was able to spend some much-needed time in nature. I go crazy living in the concrete jungle that is the city. I need to feel a connection to the Earth in my everyday life or I get anxious. Out on the farm I could feel that connection. From the croaking frogs all night long to the birds in the morning to the bees buzzing around the cherry blossoms and the rabbits hopping through the dewey grass at sunrise and the baby chicks peeping through the afternoon, there was such a variety of life all around me, and yet it was silent. It cultivated peace for me. Peace and silence and life in a world that can too often be full of war and noise and death.

I am also continuing to cultivate good environmental habits. Every day I try to produce less waste, buy local, environmentally safe and cruel-free products (or make my own), reduce consumption and tread more lightly on this planet. I don’t look at it like I’ve given anything up because I haven’t. I’ve only just begun to gain the greatest gift of all: freedom… Freedom from stuff, from debt, from want, from guilt.

I’m cultivating a lot of things right now, but the biggest seed of all is sprouting into a new attitude and outlook on life. We’ve only got a short time on this Earth, and I intend to make my time happy and meaningful and light on the planet.

 

Taking Time to Smell the Flowers

IMG_1315There’s truly no time like the present, for yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come. So enjoy every moment for there is no time like the present and no present like time. I am really beginning to understand this in a deeper way. I actually found myself taking time to literally smell the flowers at the farm this weekend. They smelled amazing. I’ve also been taking time to just sit and think and be. I’ve been enjoying time with the people I love and those who give off good energy. I’m loving that it’s finally spring and I find myself staring at my toes peeking out of my flip flops for the first time in Vancouver this year and feeling truly appreciative that the planet has come full circle once more, and that I’m still here breathing and being and believing that every moment is a gift.

My journey has officially begun and I’m finally feeling as if I’ve found the right path. I’m doing what feels right in my heart and I’m doing it with passion, and I’m grateful for every moment of it.

If you’re looking to kickstart some healthy changes in life or if you just need a weekend away to take care of yourself, check out  Santosha Yoga Retreats and Stowel Lake Farm. I highly recommend it.

 

 

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I woke up this morning to the sun shining and the birds chirping. It’s officially spring! (For real though, it just so happens to be the first official day of spring today, aka. the Spring Equinox). And what a marvellous first day of spring it is.

Ryan didn’t have to work until the afternoon and I work nights, so I forced him out of bed and into the great outdoors this morning. (It usually takes a bit of persuading to get him to go for a walk or do anything that doesn’t involve lounging in bed for as long as possible). But we got up and moving and decided to head down to Terra Nova in Richmond, just a couple of blocks from where we live.

It’s amazing how you can live in a place your entire life and never fully explore even your own backyard! Terra Nova is one such example. Although I discovered the massive rural park near the dyke last year around this time, I haven’t been back there since. Why? Too busy, too tired, too lazy… There’s always some excuse. In either case, I know it does marvellous things for my mental health when I get outside, away from people and city noises and into nature, and this park is a fabulous place to do so that’s still just a stone’s throw away.

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Richmond Sharing Farm/community garden near Terra Nova.
The Richmond Sharing Farm grows fruits and veggies for the Fruit Tree Project which then donates the fresh food to local food banks to help those in need.
http://www.sharingfarm.ca

It was so refreshing to walk through the park and come across a collection of community gardens. People were out turning the soil, planting and readying their crops for the season. Another group of people began drumming and singing and walking round in a circle as if to bring good fortune to the land. Geese roamed the gardens, squirrels ran wild and larger-than-average “bird” houses stood tall above us waiting for barn owls to occupy them as lookouts for field mice and other critters. It was just so damn natural! And I felt truly happy in this place. I can’t wait to get to the point where I can be in this place most of the time, but for now I’m still tied to urban life, working day-by-day towards my goal of breaking free and living the simple, rural, sustainable, happy, healthy life I dream of.

Today, as I said, is the first day of spring, which is symbolic for marking the beginning of a fresh start. Well, I needed that fresh start today. As much as I’ve been working towards my goals, the fact that I’ve spent almost 27 years living an urban, consumer-driven, toxic lifestyle means that I’m still used to partaking in old vices and falling into the trap of urban toxicity. Today I am ready to start new, to leave it all behind and never look back.

When I began this blog, the first post that I published was called “The Hangover.” I talked a bit about how I have become accustomed to feeling constantly hungover from all of the toxicity in my life, namely alcohol. I shared with you that I have decided to move forward in a positive direction and release the poison from my life to embark on a happier, healthier, sustainable lifestyle that is good for me, my fellow human beings, animals and the environment. In my last post, I shared that Ryan and I had decided to quit smoking. Well, I am happy to say that we have quit and that there is no sign of relapse in sight. That being said, my other major vice is alcohol. You could say it’s my drug of choice. Although it’s extremely difficult to admit to others and even to myself, I am an alcoholic.

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Most people probably don’t see that I have a problem. I don’t drink daily, I don’t hide vodka in the back of the cupboard and I’ve never had a DUI or been thrown in the drunk tank or even really missed work because of it. But I do have a hard time controlling how much I drink. As soon as I take the first sip, I’ve essentially lost all control. Sometimes I end up having just a few drinks, but other times I end up wasted, black-out drunk and making a complete fool out of myself. There’s really no telling when that first drop hits me which way I’m going to go. I’ve been in denial for a long time because deep down I know I’m just one of those people who can’t drink, period. That being said, I’ve been scared to admit my problem because I know I can’t just cut down, I have to stop. Completely. Forever. That’s a scary prospect in a world where alcohol is absolutely everywhere. Everybody I know drinks. It’s in my house, it’s at the store, it’s at restaurants and friend’s parties and advertised in magazines and movies and billboards. For Christ’s sake, I work in a pub!

In either case, I had an incident this week that caused me to really reflect on my problem and admit to myself that it is time to leave it in the past at all costs. I have suffered from depression and anxiety and all sorts of horrible physical and mental pain and now that I can openly admit it to myself, a lot if not most of it was brought on by drinking. It is not going to be easy, but I have decided to embark on a sober lifestyle free from cigarettes, alcohol and hard drugs. (I’m very pro-marijuana and psychedelics are a whole other story). No more boozing, no more smoking and definitely no chemicals! Only natural and healthy from here on out.

And so today marks the first day of spring and rejuvenation and fresh starts, and what a beautiful and symbolic day it is. Although I’m still cringing about things that have happened in my past, I’m so hopeful for the future and I’m living for today. The nature walk was just what I need this morning to help me centre myself. Next week I’ll begin volunteering at a local animal shelter which is something I’ve wanted to do for myself and my community for a long time, but have put off so that I could work more and hence spend more on destructive habits. I’ve also emailed a local organic farm about possibly volunteering with them, so hopefully that will work out. And in a couple weeks, if I am approved the time off work, I will hopefully be going on a yoga retreat to Saltspring Island.

In the past I’ve found so many reasons -or should I say excuses- not to engage in healthy activities, but in doing so I’ve kept myself trapped in the never-ending hamster wheel of the lifestyle I can’t stand living to begin with. Today is the first day of spring. Today I realized that the only way out of the hamster wheel is to jump and trust that you will land on your feet. Today is just the beginning of a beautiful future.

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So much of living simply has to do with setting yourself free: free from stuff, free from stress, free from debt and free from dependence. I don’t know about you, but I value my freedom more than anything in the world. (I also love my stuff, but that’s a topic for later discussion). In any case, both my partner Ryan and I have committed to making changes that will allow us to break free from dependency as one of the first steps on the road towards self-sufficiency. After all, how can we ever be self sufficient if we are dependent on others for survival?

Our big focus lately has been on our finances and on breaking a filthy “habit” that has been robbing us of our money, health and independence: dun, dun, dun… Yup, we are quitting smoking.

I’ll begin with our decision to quit smoking as it is probably the best, easiest and yet also the hardest step we have ever taken in the right direction. I have been a smoker for 13 years now, which is pretty much half my life. Ryan is going on 20 years as a smoker which is more than half his life. It’s no secret that smoking is pretty much the worst thing you could do to your body and that it robs you of everything while leaving you nothing more than an empty feeling that craves ever more nicotine. There is nothing good about it, but anybody who has ever been a full-time smoker understands the grasp it holds over its victims. Obviously if it was easy to quit, we’d have done it a long time ago. In any case, we have made the final decision that this is the time. Not only do I want to get on with my life and improve my health in drastic ways, but the money we spend on smoking is outrageous. And of course, we want to be as self-sufficient and independent as possible in our lifestyle, so being dependent on a poisonous stick and subsequently on massive corporations who obviously put profits before people just doesn’t jive with what we are trying to achieve.

Last week we invested in a few stop-smoking aids to help us on our journey. We each bought a vapour e-cigarette ($90.00 for two at Micky’s Convenience Store in Richmond, BC) and I bought the book Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking. I’ve heard amazing things about this book and his method and am almost through the book myself. It hasn’t really told me anything I don’t already know, but it has made me reassess my perceived “need” to smoke. I am down to two cigarettes a day and Ryan and I have decided we will each have our final smoke together on Thursday.

It feels great to know I will never have to be a slave to smoking again, but of course it’s not easy to break a habit that has been part of daily life for so long. But the money we will save alone has got me excited about quitting. We probably spend about $50-$60 on cigarettes a week on average between the two of us. That’s more that $200 a month and more that $2,400 a year! In Carr’s book, he explains that the average full-time smoker will need to earn around $350,000 extra in his lifetime to support his habit. I haven’t earned that much in my entire working life so far! It’s absolutely ridiculous, and it ends now. Of course it will be an ongoing process and I will do my best to keep you updated on our progress and success!

Onto the bigger financial picture…

There is nothing like the feeling of being in debt to make you feel oppressed, enslaved and completely dependent on the system – a system I can’t stomach at the best of times. In today’s world, everybody wants your money, and the more in debt you are, the better for the bill collectors. That’s how companies make their money: off of your hard-earned bucks and the added interest that comes from overspending and not having money leftover to pay your bills in full and on time. DON’T FALL INTO THIS TRAP!!!

I like to think I am pretty good with money. I only have one credit card (mainly for the purposes of building credit for when I need it), I have only ever been late on one payment, and I pay my Visa bill in full every month. Granted, that’s because I have an overdraft with a lower interest rate on my chequing account that allows me to do this. Even so, I still maintain a regular savings account and am very conscious about how much I spend, on what and why. In other words, I have never dug myself a hole that has been overwhelmingly difficult to climb out of. Even so, I don’t want to owe anybody even a penny of my hard-earned money, so the other night Ryan and I sat down to discuss our finances in depth for the first real time in our relationship.

We don’t necessarily have a timeline on when we would like to be debt-free as we have a wedding coming up and then I will be returning to school, so there’s no telling what expenses we may incur over the next little while. What we have decided is that we will work within a set budget every week and be conscious all the time of where our money is going, and -of utmost importance- we will avoid owing interest and fees as much as possible. There is no worse feeling than somebody taking a chunk of your money (and hence the time out of your life that it took to earn that money) simply because you didn’t pay the base amount on time. I don’t have balls (literally), and yet it still feels like my balls are in a vice when I owe money. Since Ryan and I are getting married, his debts also become my debts and visa versa, so we know that now is the time to get our finances in order if we are to embark on a happy, healthy relationship and break free from the system that oppresses us all.

One of the greatest things that came out of our financial meeting was the decision to use cash and to stay on budget and keep track of our spending with “the magic jars.” If you’ve ever seen an episode of Til Debt Do Us Part, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, the magic jars are a set of five jars among which you divide your weekly budget. They consist of Food, Transportation, Entertainment, Clothing & Gifts and Everything Else (which for us includes things like make-up, pet food and the like).

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Our jars are set up in an accessible place at the entrance/exit of our kitchen. This week we allotted $100 to food, $30 to transportation, $60 to entertainment and $60 to everything else for a total weekly budget of $250.

The jars are a great way to make sure you aren’t spending more than your budget, and a great way to track your spending as you have to make them balance by replacing any spent money with receipts detailing your spending. But using the jars alone won’t ensure you stay on track. You need to be conscious of what things cost and how much of everything you will actually need to get you through, and also be aware of what you already have that might help you save money on purchasing something new. This is a key aspect of sustainability and self-sufficiency: using what you can, budgeting for what you need and rationing what you’ve got. The further you can make your money, your food supply, your car or your free entertainment go, the less you will waste and the more you will save. Pretty simple really, but lots of logical things seem quite simple but in reality are not (ie. quitting smoking or losing weight). It’s simple math: If you spend within your budget, you will not incur debt. If you spend more than you make, you will be in debt. Obviously, we are going to start spending within our budget no matter how many nights we have to spend at home, which thankfully for us could be pretty much every night as we’re not really into “going out” as it is. For other people, this could be as hard as quitting smoking is for me. If you are in the habit of spending recklessly, you will need to re-train yourself to not be so reckless and to enjoy the free and -dare I say it- SIMPLE things in life.

This brings me to my next point; Living frugal and free!

I am not cheap by any stretch. I am the first to spend good money on something if I see it as a good investment, I’m a great tipper and I love to treat my friends and family (and myself) to good food, great experiences and nice things. It is the unnecessary spending that kills me. If I spend more on something than I value it to be worth, it eats away at me. I often get that feeling when I go out to eat. I’ll end up munching away at a meal that is only okay and I figure I could make it just as good if not better for a fraction of the cost at home. I chalk every experience I have like this up to a lesson learned though. Well, I have learned my share of lessons so far in this life, and the value of eating at home is definitely not one I need to re-learn. As one way of cutting down on food cost and feeling more of a connection to the food I eat, I am making a concerted effort to eat at home as much as possible, and to use as much as I can without having to throw away food that has gone bad. For example, I had a loaf of cinnamon bread sitting in the fridge for about a month and a half. Because it was in the fridge, it kept well, but it was crusty and a bit stale. No bother though… I turned it into the best damn French Toast I’d ever eaten! (Here’s the recipe). Likewise, I saw this fabulous recipe for stuffed chicken on the Food Network, but instead of going out and buying all the ingredients, I made do with a couple of Cornish Game Hens we had in the freezer since last August (perfectly fine when thawed), a box of stovetop stuffing (simply because we had it in the house as scratch stuffing is crazy easy and nummy) and half a can of corn. Then I roasted some potatoes we had on hand with some fresh BC garlic and olive oil and voila! All weekend we ate like royalty for next to no cost as we already had all the ingredients in the house. All we needed to do was get creative (kind of) and use them!

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My best buddy Lucifer keeping me company while I cook up a storm in my kitchen
(A.K.A. My Happy Place).

Cooking at home and being resourceful was so much fun (I turn these sorts of challenges into a sort of game), that it made me start thinking about other areas of our life where we could cut back on spending and be more resourceful. One such area is definitely entertainment.

Next to food, we spend the most unnecessary money on entertainment, and as I said, we barely even go out! Even so, it’s not cheap to go out or even stay/eat-in in the conventional sense anymore, but there are alternatives. I’ve been focusing on hitting the gym lately. I do pay about $40 a month for a membership, but it’s amazing how much time I can spend there once I just get up and go, and I feel great that I’m doing something that’s both entertaining and healthy and I’m getting my money’s worth! That is good value, so it’s worth the cost. In addition, last night Ryan and I went for a walk as the sun was setting. It was windy and cold, but it was beautiful and fun and we walked and talked and held hands and laughed and kissed. And then we did something neither one of us had done in years… We went to the library.

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Both of us had to apply for new library cards as it had been so long since either of us had set foot in a library that we had literally been deleted from their system. But it only took a couple minutes, and of course, it was free! With each of our memberships we are able to take out up to 25 items at a time, and these items range from books to DVDs to video games. For me, I was all about the books. I picked out a classic, a memoir and a few hands-on how-to books (my favourite) on gardening and cooking. Ryan was so excited that he could rent X-Box games for free that I actually heard him say “libraries are awesome!” We like to joke that we’re total geeks, but in all actuality, no matter what you’re into, libraries are pretty effin’ cool!

As much as changing our lifestyle has left me with a bit of an empty pit in my stomach, I’m super excited to embark on this adventure and move closer towards a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Every challenge is exciting and I’m getting great pleasure out of achieving my own goals and proving to myself that I have the power to make positive changes in my own life and contribute something to the world by being less wasteful and more resourceful.

I’d love to hear from others who are making it their mission to live more simply and sufficiently to discover new ways to conserve finances, resources and the environment. Please feel free to leave comments below if you have any ideas or suggestions!

Anna Xx

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Hawaiian locally-made starfish/seashell on twine décor and artisan-made “Aloha” prayer flags (fabric made in India).

Buying, eating and supporting local products and businesses is one of the trademark qualities of living a simple, healthy, mindful and environmentally friendly life. For some who take it to greater extremes, staying local is just as important. After all, the less you travel, the less of a footprint you will leave on this Earth. The CO2 emissions from planes and cars is so destructive to the planet that we should all be more mindful of partaking in these types of travel as infrequently as possible, however, I believe there is a middle ground for the rest of us who aren’t necessarily willing or ready to stay put for the rest of our lives.

I recently returned home from a trip to Hawaii. First off, what a spectacular place in the world. Geologically, Hawaii is like the crowned jewel of the Pacific. Made up of a chain of volcanoes-turned-islands, Hawaii’s geographical location right above one of the world’s most active “hot-spots” has allowed this island chain to literally rise from the ashes. As older islands slowly erode away and become smaller and smaller, new islands are constantly forming. Some time in the distant future, the Hawaii we know today will cease to exist, but the island chain will continue to form and erode as it makes its way north. One day “Hawaii” will be located somewhere off the coast of Alaska, perhaps. Anywho, I could go on all day about volcanoes and rocks and how ridiculously spectacular the Earth is, but that’s not why I’m writing today. Today I’m writing about the importance of thinking and acting locally, even when you’re far from home.

I love to travel. Anybody who knows me knows how my passion for travelling has led me across the globe and back a few times already. I believe travelling can be one of the most enlightening, refreshing, humbling and educational experiences a human being can have. It truly does make you look at the world from different perspectives. That being said, it saddens me when I go somewhere like Hawaii -a tiny dot in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean- and it’s overrun with tourists shopping, eating and consuming mindlessly and then wasting: wasting all their consumer packaging, wasting their money, wasting their time on this beautiful island…wasting away. Kalakaua Avenue is lined with high-end designer stores and money-grabbing tourist shops on one side, and more designer stores, malls and resorts on the other. If you didn’t know it already, you might not even guess you are just steps away from the beach and the wide open ocean when you are standing on this thriving consumer strip. I watched the thousands of tourists bustling about with a bag from each store they’d visited: LaCoste, Guess, Forever 21, Kate Spade, Apple…Seriously? Who goes to Hawaii to buy an iPad? But people do. The Best Buy vending machine in our resort gave testament to that. You could literally buy iPads, phones, cameras, Go Pros and other techy gear from a vending machine, 24 hours a day. For some people, it seems this is one of the best things about travelling as they get to spend their hard-earned money just mindlessly consuming and acquiring luxury items for no good reason. The need to consume to fill a void inside is fascinating to me as it’s been proven time and time again that money cannot buy happiness (in so much as acquiring unnecessary goods doesn’t make us any happier). But we do it, and I’m no exception.

I love to shop, but not in the conventional sense. I generally stay away from big-box stores, global chains and designer shops. First off, these stores generally sell such generic items in such mass quantities that there’s nothing unique about anything you’re going to find here. Second, stores like Wal-Mart and the like can be attractive because of their crazy low prices, but there are many hidden high costs behind their low prices (for more info, watch this riveting documentary). Lastly, global or even national chain stores tend to import goods from all over the country or even the world. This not only takes its toll on the environment during transportation, but it takes business away from the local community, puts money in the hands of the few who have a monopoly on the market, and perpetuates the separation between the consumer and the goods they are consuming. That t-shirt you just bought on sale for $10…Do you know who made it? Do you know where it came from, what it’s made of or how it got to the rack you found it on? Probably not.

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Local store selling locally-sourced goods (among some imports). Store: http://www.pineapplecounty.net

As a society in general, we’ve become so removed from the origin of the goods we consume that if we knew how most of our food and goods were produced we’d probably be sick to our stomachs. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to close our wallets and grow/make everything ourselves (although that would be wonderful). We do have the option of taking the middle road though, and that’s what I try to do both at home and (especially) when I travel. After all, I would never travel to a foreign land just to buy things I can get at home, especially not at stores I can visit at my local mall. When I travel, I am constantly on the hunt for local and authentic products and experiences. I want my money to stay within the community I’m visiting as much as possible. I want to support local artisans, farmers and small-business owners while staying away from those big-corporations that I loathe.

A friend of mine who writes a wonderful blog called When We Were Young once wrote that her husband told her “we vote with our pocketbook,” which is so very true in today’s world. Who are you voting for? I get that life is expensive enough as it is, but I also believe that if low-cost and/or globally-recognized designer labels are the most important things in our lives, then we are truly digging ourselves a hole that will someday bury us; We are voting for our own eventual demise.

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Hand-carved Tiki head made by a local artist on a street corner. (He even carved our names in the back). Cost: $60 USD.

On that note, I choose to vote to support local businesses, to know where my food is coming from and who made the products I buy and to say no to the injustices inflicted by big-name businesses. Whenever I am travelling, I keep this in mind and make it my mission to hunt down the best locally-made goods I can find, which then tend to become a conversation-starter when I bring them home. After all, people are more interested in where I got my Tiki carving than where I got my handbag…at least the kind of people I want to be around.

The point is, it is important to support your local community regardless of where that might be, and if you choose to travel, you should at least be mindful enough to support your host community. Not only will you be giving back to the people and places you visit, but you’ll end up bringing home much more unique items, eating much fresher, organic foods and having a much more authentic experience overall. Why bother travelling half-way around the world just to go shopping in a mall? You can do that at home. So next time you’re out and about in the world, whether you’re far from home or traipsing around your own local hood, remember to support the community you’re in. Buying locally can literally mean the difference between a healthy, thriving, sustainable community and one that is completely dependent on big corporations to keep them alive. Make the right choice. Remember, every dollar you spend is a vote you are making. Vote wisely.

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More local Hawaiian goodies I brought home with me from farmers’ markets. Added bonus: All-natural ingredients with no preservatives! Yum:)